Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In a postscript appended to the story in the handwriting of Diedrich Knickerbocker (Washington Irving’s gentle burlesque on old Dutch New Yorkers and the fictive annotator of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., 1819-1820, in which this tale was published), the Dutchman records his having heard this story from an old, “dry-looking” gentleman described as possessing features strikingly like those of Ichabod Crane. When pressed for a moral, the storyteller replies: “[H]e that runs races with goblin troopers is likely to have rough riding of it.” This, indeed, sums up a recurring theme in Irving’s sketches: the results of the culture clash between industrious and poor but to some degree unscrupulous Yankees and the hardheaded and prosperous but also wily Dutch.
Neither the Dutch nor the Yankee newcomers possess a clear moral superiority. Here, for example, Ichabod has only a slightly better education than the Dutch children he teaches, and he would marry Katrina not from love but for her father’s wealth. Similarly, Brom recognizes the threat to his interests and in his own rough way thwarts his Yankee opponent. Because Katrina does not appear especially attractive or faithful, Brom’s motives hardly seem purer than those of Ichabod.
(The entire section is 204 words.)
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City versus Country
One of the great themes of American literature and American folklore is the clash between the city and the country, between civilization and the wilderness. As the theme is played out in literature around the world, it carries one of two interpretations: either the city is seen as beautiful, civilized, rich, clean and safe, and the country is ugly, dirty and dangerous, or else the city is dirty and dangerous, populated by swindlers who love nothing better than tricking the kind, gentle people from the beautiful country. American folklore from the nineteenth century tends to favor the second view. Settlers were proud of their wilderness, and excited by it, and their stories celebrated the skills and qualities one needed to survive on the frontier. The heroes from this period—Daniel Boone, Mike Fink, Paul Bunyan, John Henry, the Swamp Angel—are rugged, strong and clever. When supposedly educated city slickers venture into the countryside, they are outsmarted by these heroes every time.
Ichabod Crane, a native of Connecticut, is a typical scholar who wishes he were an outdoorsman. Irving points out that there are two types of men who come out of Connecticut, ‘‘pioneers for the mind as well as for the forest,’’ who become ''frontier woodmen and country schoolmasters.’’ Crane is not completely out of place in the forest—he is able to help with the ''lighter labors'' on the farm— but thinks of himself and is...
(The entire section is 957 words.)